#20BacklistIn2020 · 2020 Reviews · historical fiction

#20BACKLISTIN2020 Backlist Book Challenge: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

2020 backlist challenge graphic

In a desperate bid to reduce the books that are collecting dust on my TBR shelves, I have decided to collaborate with another avid reader and fellow book reviewer, Nicole from Certified Book Addicts. The #20BACKLISTIN2020 challenge is a self paced challenge hosted by Jaylamm.ReadsReading and Sunshine, and Cassidys.Bookshelf. The overall goal of this challenge is to read 20 titles from the backlist books that are currently sitting on your TBR pile. For this challenge I will be reading non review books and taking my selections directly from my chock-a-block TBR bookcases (there are two shelved back to back). I will be publishing my reviews of these books on my blog and social media sites on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

Book #18 in the #20BACKLISTIN2020 challenge

Estimated TBR Shelf Life: 3 years

I said my story had many beginnings, and the day the camera arrived was one of them. After all, without the camera, there wouldn’t have been any photographs. Without the camera, I wouldn’t have a story to tell. . . .

1917 . . . In a world torn apart by war, two young Yorkshire cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, announce that something marvelous has happened. They’ve photographed actual fairies, those ethereal creatures of mischief, living in their Cottingley, England, garden. The girls become a national sensation. The photos are declared real by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And a nation torn apart by tragedy embraces this amazing event. Together, the cousins keep their secret about the photos for decades, until they decide it’s time to tell the truth.

One hundred years later . . . Olivia Kavanagh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop, and is amazed to find a manuscript that has been hidden away for decades. She becomes fascinated by the tale it tells. But it’s the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the story of Frances and Elsie intertwines with hers, connecting past to present . . . and blurring what is real and what is imagined.


‘Fairies will not be rushed. I know this now; know I must be patient.’

Magic, mystery, family secrets and fairies fill the pages of the fourth novel by historical fiction specialist Hazel Gaynor. A book shrouded in myth, speculation, innocence, curiosity and hope, The Cottingley Secret crosses the time of the Great War, through to the present day. There is no denying the allure of Hazel Gaynor’s 2017 release!

Opening in the year 1917 in the north of England, we meet young Frances Griffiths and her cousin Elsie. While spending time in the garden of Elsie’s Cottingley based abode, the two girls manage to capture something magical on camera, fairies at the bottom of their garden near the local beck. It doesn’t take long before the photographs reach fever pitch, everyone wants a piece of the girls and their fairies. The mysterious photographs have come at just the right time, as Britain and the world is plunged in widespread loss experienced from the Great War. It seems these photographs have given a broken society a sense of hope, faith and belief. But are they real, or are they an elaborate hoax? In the present day, we are acquainted with Oliva Kavanagh. By chance Olivia stumbles upon an antique manuscript and an intriguing photograph in her grandfather’s bookshop. Delving deeper into the origins of this photograph and manuscript, Olivia learns about the secret of the fairies in the garden. Olivia gradually uncovers a century old mystery linked to two innocent girls and a world captivated by the possible existence of fairies. It is an important personal journey for Olivia too, as it helps her gain some composure and self-belief in her life as it stands.

Hazel Gaynor is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical fiction novelists. I have enjoyed a couple of Gaynor’s books in close succession and I have two more on my shelves to read. The Cottingley Secret is a book that displays this author’s clear aptitude for the historical fiction genre. This 2017 release was beautifully compiled and passionately researched.

The Cottingley Secret is a split narrative style novel that moves from the past, via a 1917 storyline, through to a present day timeline. The transitions between the two contrasted time periods were handled well by Gaynor. Although I found the present day narrative to be essential to the story as a whole, I did find I was much more taken with the 1917 past thread. However, this may be due to my personal fascination and preoccupation for the Great War era. I can never get enough of the stories that arise from this tumultuous, but highly interesting time period. I really connected to our lead protagonists of both the past and the present day visitations. I could sympathise with Oliva’s predicament of feeling lost and lacking direction. Olivia is also seeking some much needed self-belief and the confidence to make her own decisions in regards to her marriage plans, as well as her future. I really felt for Olivia and Gaynor manages to ensure that we feel a great deal of sympathy for this character. I also liked Olivia’s connections to her late grandfather’s bookshop. This was a fabulous component to the novel and for booklovers, it really is a dream! In terms of the past based characters, I think Gaynor did an excellent job of embodying the innocence and naivety of the two young girls at the centre of the happenings. Both Frances and Elsie are outlined very well on the pages of The Cottingley Secret. In fact, I often felt like an extra friend with them as they frolicked in the bottom of Elsie’s garden, capturing those magical fairies.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about this whole story and the existence of the fairies. I wasn’t much of a fairy fan as a child, I had a fascination for unicorns instead! However, I think I am still sitting on the fence with this one. At least four out of the five photographs captured by the girls was clearly a game or a hoax, but it is the fifth photograph that still remains a mystery. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among many others supporting the authenticity of this photograph, it has created quite a long standing sense of interest and speculation. I’m still not sure, I’d like to believe it might have been possible, especially during the time period in which this photograph was taken. Gaynor successfully highlights this era of extreme sadness and melancholy. So many lives and loved ones were lost. With a nation and world in mourning, the hope that came from the possible existence of these magical beings definitely provided a sense of faith and healing. I was inspired to do some more online research following my reading experience of The Cottingley Secret. Hazel Gaynor’s six page ‘Notes on a Fairy Tale’ located at the back of this book sheds some more light on the issue, along with an accompanying note from Christine Lynch, the daughter of Frances. Hazel Gaynor rounds off this fiction inspired by historical events tale with the insertion of the five famous photographs taken of the fairies. The verdict is still out on the truth to these photographs, but I do feel that it was a very entrancing main topic focus for a book.

Take a step back in time and escape to a world of fairies, magic, innocence and belief. The Cottingley Secret is a story of conjecture, obsession and external fascination. It is recommended to both contemporary fiction and historical fiction fans alike.

**** 4 stars

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor was published on 24th July 2017 by HarperCollins. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here. 

To learn more about the author of The Cottingley Secret, Hazel Gaynor, visit here.

4 thoughts on “#20BACKLISTIN2020 Backlist Book Challenge: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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